Saturday, February 28, 2009

War is the new peace

Here in DC, the frenzy of orgiastic leader-worship that accompanied the inauguration has died down somewhat -- outside of the professional sycophants and courtiers in and around Congress -- but throughout the city one can still find shops hawking left over Obama merchandise. Walking by one such store the other day, I couldn't help but notice these, shall we say, rather naive t-shirts:

Thought it wasn't intended as such, these shirts would fit in well as the latest in ironic hipster fashion at Urban Outfitters -- that is, if Urban Outfitters wasn't already selling a wide selection of sickeningly earnest Hopeware.

And while I appreciate the sentiment, associating the latest American caesar with "peace" in anything but a mocking sense seems fairly indefensible in light of this:
WASHINGTON, Feb 27 (IPS) — President Barack Obama has given military commanders a free hand to determine the size and composition of a residual force in Iraq up to 50,000 troops, apparently including the option of leaving one or more combat brigades or bringing them from the United States, after the August 2010 deadline for the ostensible withdrawal of all combat brigades now in Iraq.

Although the ostensible purpose of the combat brigades remaining in Iraq would be to protect other U.S. troops in the country, they would also provide the kind of combat capability that U.S. commanders have wanted to maintain to deal with a broad range of contingencies.
CIA Director Leon Panetta said yesterday that U.S. aerial attacks against al-Qaeda and other extremist strongholds inside Pakistan would continue, despite concerns about a popular Pakistani backlash.

"Nothing has changed our efforts to go after terrorists, and nothing will change those efforts," Panetta said in response to questions about CIA missile attacks, launched from unmanned Predator aircraft.
And, of course, this:
President Obama has ordered the first combat deployments of his presidency, saying yesterday that he had authorized an additional 17,000 U.S. troops "to stabilize a deteriorating situation" in Afghanistan.

The new deployments, to begin in May, will increase the U.S. force in Afghanistan by nearly 50 percent, bringing it to 55,000 by mid-summer, along with 32,000 non-U.S. NATO troops. In a statement issued by the White House, Obama said that "urgent attention and swift action" were required because "the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda . . . threatens America from its safe-haven along the Pakistani border."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Why I'm not a senator

Not being a U.S. Senator, I don't have an all that sophisticated view of foreign policy. For instance, if I were to ponder how the U.S. government might improve improve its image in the Muslim world, my answer would be: why not stop killing so many Muslims? Or how about not backing corrupt, authoritarian regimes from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, while funneling military supplies to Israel so it can lay waste to Muslim populations in Lebanon and Palestine?

But these are laughably unserious ideas from a mere blogger.

Serious thinkers, on the other hand, like Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), hold hearings on "Engaging with Muslim Communities Around the World", where two luminaries of the U.S. foreign policy establishment between them responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims -- former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former head of U.S. Central Command Admiral William Fallon -- will impart their wisdom on the Oriental mind. And really, what's better than having two symbols of American imperial arrogance discussing how to address the Muslim world's distaste for . . . American imperial arrogance?

Albright, you will recall, famously told 60 Minutes' Leslie Stahl that the deaths of more than half a million Iraqi children from the U.S.-imposed embargo were "worth it" in order to achieve U.S. policy objectives -- a cold and callous remark that understandably enflamed anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East.

Admiral Fallon, meanwhile, was the man responsible for overseeing the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2007-08, which speaks for itself. And while rumored to have been an opponent of a possible war with Iran, his enlightened views on the Iranians -- "These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them." -- leave some doubt as to his progressive, humanitarian credentials.

Still, kill enough Muslims and you can't help but learn a thing or two about them, right?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Chas Freeman for Chinese Premier

(Nominee for the National Intelligence Council Chairmanship Chas Freeman drives a tank toward a protester in Tiananmen Square)

President Obama's reported pick to head the National Intelligence Council (NIC), former ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman, has been praised by critics of U.S. foreign policy for being one of the few Obama foreign policy appointees who isn't a crazed, warmongering Likudnik. Indeed, Freeman has been pilloried by all the usual suspects -- like indicted AIPAC spy Steve Rosen -- for his outspoken denunciations of the Iraq war and the "bipartisan consensus" that enabled it. As Jim Lobe writes, "He doesn't pull punches," and barring the nomination of Noam Chomsky as Secretary of State, he seems about as good a foreign policy pick as one could expect out of the U.S. government.

Unfortunately, opponents of the Freeman pick, like The Weekly Standard's buffoonish Michael Goldfarb, have uncovered the would-be NIC chairman opining on the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and the Chinese government's response to it. Now, if you're a normal human being (i.e. not a respected American foreign policy official), you probably think that the Chinese state was and continues to be nothing but a vicious, oppressive gang termed a "government" because it has the biggest and baddest weapons. But if you're Chas Freeman, you believe the Chinese government is a bunch of appeasing, limp-wristed pansies who have been all too forgiving to their subjects:
. . . the truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud, rather than -- as would have been both wise and efficacious -- to intervene with force when all other measures had failed to restore domestic tranquility to Beijing and other major urban centers in China. In this optic, the Politburo's response to the mob scene at "Tian'anmen" stands as a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership, not as an example of rash action.

For myself, I side on this -- if not on numerous other issues -- with Gen. Douglas MacArthur. I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be. Such folk, whether they represent a veterans' "Bonus Army" or a "student uprising" on behalf of "the goddess of democracy" should expect to be displaced with despatch from the ground they occupy. I cannot conceive of any American government behaving with the ill-conceived restraint that the Zhao Ziyang administration did in China, allowing students to occupy zones that are the equivalent of the Washington National Mall and Times Square, combined. while shutting down much of the Chinese government's normal operations. I thus share the hope of the majority in China that no Chinese government will repeat the mistakes of Zhao Ziyang's dilatory tactics of appeasement in dealing with domestic protesters in China.
Reading this generously -- very generously -- one could argue that, well, at least Freeman grants the Chinese state the same right to repression his comrades in the U.S. government undoubtedly believe they are entitled to. That is, when it comes to brutality and unchecked state power, Freeman's no American exceptionalist.

On the other hand, Freeman's bemoaning of the "ill-conceived restraint" of the Chinese government -- the same government that, according to the Chinese Red Cross, killed roughly 3,000 people at Tiananmen Square -- is nothing if not monstrous. Why, how dare those Chinese protesters upset the "normal functions" of the Chinese government by protesting in favor of silly things like human rights and basic liberties, Freeman writes, showing just how far removed those who would presume to lead us are from basic norms of human decency.

This is an important fact to keep in mind: that while some members of the foreign policy establishment may be better than others, when held against the same moral standards you or I are held to in our daily lives, they are nearly all psychopaths. Strip away all the ex post facto rationalizations for the state (see: the "social contract") and one begins to realize we're ruled by a gang of fools, charlatans and criminals that just so happen to have a bunch of guns and tanks to back up their proclamations and edicts. That Chas Freeman is one of the good guys, relatively speaking, is a pretty good indication of this.

Shorter Obama

Obama: Cheap credit and a glut of debt, both personal and national, got us in this economic crisis.

Obama: Cheap credit and a glut of debt, both personal and national, will get us out of this economic crisis.

Update: "It's not about helping banks, it's about helping people." Ah, screw it: it's about helping the banks.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Lies, damn lies, and Iran

As a rule, one should always view with a hefty dose of skepticism claims about the imminent threat of some enemy-of-the-month Middle Eastern country developing weapons of mass destruction.

Case in point:

“The Sky is Falling” "Iran holds enough uranium for bomb" declares the Financial Times, claiming that Iran now has a stockpile of enriched uranium sufficient to build a nuclear bomb. Beneath the sensationalist headline, however, one finds that the story is referring to Iran’s declared nuclear material -- that is, the material inspected and monitored by the IAEA -- which, to qualify as weapons grade, would need to be re-enriched. To do that, Iran would likely need to pull out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and, as The Nation’s Robert Dreyfuss writes, kick out the IAEA employees currently inspecting its nuclear facilities. In other words, Iran would need to alert the whole world to its intentions. And conflating Iran's declared nuclear material with weapons-grade plutonium is a little like comparing a Ford Fiesta to a Ferrari -- they both have four wheels and an engine, but that's about where the similarities stop.

Writes Dreyfuss:
What Iran has is one ton or so of low-enriched uranium. You can't build a bomb with that. To do so, Iran would first have to re-enrich all of it to weapons-grade uranium, which it isn't doing. Right now that uranium is under lock and key, watched over by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In order to enrich it, Iran would have to do so right in front of the inspectors, who'd tell us all about it, or kick the inspectors out and do it secretly. Either way, (a) we'd know about it, and (b) it would still take Iran a long time, many months, if not a year or two, and that's assuming that they do it right and that the machines don't break down.
Where Dreyfuss errs, however, is in absolving the Obama administration of any wrongdoing for consistently contradicting the findings of the U.S. intelligence community, calling “alarmist” a piece in the Los Angeles Times that merely documents the repeated times high-ranking Obama officials, including the president himself, have done just. Dreyfuss claims the story’s lede -- that the new administration was dismissing the findings of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that declared Iran had halted any weapons program it once had -- is “utterly bogus.”

“The evidence the newspaper cites has nothing, repeat nothing, to do with any new NIE or intelligence conclusion,” he writes.

Of course, that was the point of the Times piece: that although there was no new evidence to back the belief, “there was a growing consensus” within the Obama administration that the 2007 NIE “provided a misleading picture” about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Dreyfuss also discounts the significance of Obama’s many statements that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, arguing that there is a meaningful difference between stating Iran is “developing” nuclear weapons and “pursuing” them. Yet that explanation fails to convince, as developing and pursuing are synonymous in the context of Iran's nuclear program (especially as Obama's references to Iran's "pursuit" of nukes have never been couched in terms of merely attaining the "capability" of creating them).

Whether Iran is “pursuing” or “developing” nuclear weapons doesn’t really matter -- both statements are contrary to the findings of the IAEA and the ’07 NIE.

Furthermore, for those who assume his current talk is simply pre-negotiation posturing or an attempt to preempt Republican criticism that he is “weak” on defense, consider that Obama was declaring during the Democratic primaries in April 2007 that Iran was “in the process of developing” nukes, adding (incorrectly) that “I don’t think that’s disputed by any experts."

Dreyfuss then interprets CIA Director Leon Panetta’s statement during his confirmation hearing that “there is no question” Iran is seeking nuclear weapons as meaningless:
Problem is, Panetta hasn't seen any -- repeat, any -- classified information yet. Now, I attended those hearings, and Panetta was speaking before he became CIA director, and he was speaking about what he's read in the papers, not what he learned from reading secret reports. He's entitled to his opinion, but that's all it is. It certainly has nothing to do with any new conclusion reached by the intelligence community.
Ok, so Panetta hasn’t seen any classified intelligence -- is it then supposed to be reassuring that he apparently trusts the accounts he reads about Iran's nuclear program in Time magazine and his local paper over the declassified and widely publicized findings of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies?

It's also worth noting that Panetta's remark came in direct response to a leading question from Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) concerning whether he felt the 2007 NIE  was erroneous in declaring that Iran had ended its weapons program in 2003.

Meanwhile, if one still doubts the fact that officials in the Obama administration have repeatedly contradicted the intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program, consider Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remark during her confirmation hearing -- a remark included in her presumably well-vetted prepared statement:
As we focus on Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, we must also actively pursue a strategy of smart power in the Middle East that addresses the security needs of Israel and the legitimate political and economic aspirations of the Palestinians; that effectively challenges Iran to end its nuclear weapons program....
That’s about as pretty unequivocal statement as one can get. It almost seems like part of a pattern of distortion...

Obama, Jan. 11:
Iran is going to be one of our biggest challenges and as I said during the campaign we have a situation in which not only is Iran exporting terrorism through Hamas, through Hezbollah but they are pursuing a nuclear weapon that could potentially trigger a nuclear arms race.
Obama, Jan. 27:
Now, the Iranian people are a great people, and Persian civilization is a great civilization. Iran has acted in ways that's not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past -- none of these things have been helpful.
Panetta, Feb. 5:
From all the information that I've seen, I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability.
Obama, Feb. 9:
I said during the campaign that Iran is a country that has extraordinary people, extraordinary history and traditions, but that its actions over many years now have been unhelpful when it comes to promoting peace and prosperity both in the region and around the world; that their attacks or -- or their -- their financing of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, the bellicose language that they've used towards Israel, their development of a nuclear weapon or their pursuit of a nuclear weapon -- that all of those things create the possibility of destabilizing the region and are not only contrary to our interests, but I think are contrary to the interests of international peace.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The imperial imperative of leadership

The United States is a lot like the Roman Empire, according to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen, but that’s not a bad thing! he argues in a staggeringly silly op/ed for The Washington Post:
Our brigade combat teams are not the legions of old. . . . But we in the U.S. military are likewise held to a high standard. Like the early Romans, we are expected to do the right thing, and when we don't, to make it right again.
I have a feeling much of the world would prefer the U.S. government to, say, mind its own business and not attack and occupy other countries in the first place, rather than continuing the oxymoronic quest to "make . . . right again" what it has already shown itself woefully incapable of making right the first time. That said, it is refreshing to hear the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff echoing the likes of Gore Vidal in drawing the obvious comparison between the U.S. and the ancient Romans.

But Mullen is not one to see comparisons between the U.S. and the Roman Empire as a critique of Washington’s reckless and brutal subjugation of foreign, impoverished peoples. Rather, Mullen sees the similarities as a good thing. In his piece, he recounts an apocryphal tale about the Romans’ kind and meek treatment of the Locrians after the latter complained about widespread abuses (like slavery) committed against them by the local Roman authorities, suggesting the U.S. would act likewise. While other occupied peoples would presumably not petition their occupiers for redress of their grievances, the Romans had a “reputation for equanimity and fairness”, Mullen writes. “Such were the responsibilities of leadership.”

It never appears to occur to Mullen that perhaps the Romans would not have needed to respond in such an equanimous manner had they not occupied the Locrians territory in the first place, seeing as how there would have been no occasion for a Roman kleptocracy to enslave them. But Mullen, like much of the foreign policy establishment in Washington, has no fundamental problem with the U.S. invading and occupying other countries -- obviously -- so it likely never occurred to him that the Romans’ (alleged) reputation for kindness in foreign affairs might be incongruous with their well-documented history of invading and occupying their peaceful neighbors.

When he isn’t regurgitating politically convenient and questionable historical analogies, Mullen simply chooses to skip over uncomfortable episodes in U.S. history. After discussing the need to view the war in Afghanistan through a “regional lens”, he bemoans the lack of trust -- nay, the existence of a “trust deficit” -- between U.S. and Pakistani military officials:
Any effective strategy must be inclusive of the security challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, if not also the countries surrounding them.
Looking through that regional lens is difficult given our trust deficit with Pakistan. A whole generation of Pakistani military officers either doesn't know the United States, doesn't trust us or both. What they do know is that military aid restrictions went into effect under the Pressler Amendment in 1990. We basically cut them off for 12 years, and in the process cut ourselves off.
As one Pakistani official put it recently, "The U.S. abandoned Pakistan, and that mutual distrust didn't allow and still in many ways does not allow both parties to find a common strategy to defeat terrorism."
What Mullen doesn’t write is that the Pressler Amendment only called for cutting off aid in the event that Pakistan covertly developed nuclear weapons, as it did with a wink and a nod from the Reagan administration throughout the 1980s, eventually forcing the first Bush administration to acknowledge as much and enact the amendment's restrictions. Meanwhile, for what great purpose was that aid to Pakistan being put to use? Mostly funding the Afghan mujahideen -- aka bin Laden and friends -- through the Pakistani intelligence service while propping up an authoritarian military dictator. Truly God’s work.

Mullen concludes thusly:
We don't always get it right. But like the early Romans, we strive in the end to make it right. We strive to earn trust. And that makes all the difference.
Yes, the fact that the U.S. doesn’t always “get it right”, but strives to do so I’m sure “makes all the difference” to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead as a result of an illegal and ill-considered war of aggression. And some people have the nerve to think Americans are arrogant . . .

Friday, February 13, 2009

Consensus trumps evidence

Addressing an issue I've covered since President Obama took office, Los Angeles Times reporter Greg Miller noted in a recent piece the fact that the new administration's frequent assertions that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons contradict the findings of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate. Writes Miller:
Little more than a year after U.S. spy agencies concluded that Iran had halted work on a nuclear weapon, the Obama administration has made it clear that it believes there is no question that Tehran is seeking the bomb.
Being a rationale, science-based liberal administration, there is of course a perfectly valid reason for this conflict with the record, such as compelling new intelligence. Or not:
U.S. officials said that although no new evidence had surfaced to undercut the findings of the 2007 estimate, there was growing consensus that it provided a misleading picture and that the country was poised to reach crucial bomb-making milestones this year.
Meanwhile, here's Director Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair continuing the Obama administration record of disregarding facts that conflict with their fear-mongering on Iran -- which the head of one "non-proliferation" organization quoted in the Times spins as just commonsense pre-negotiation posturing -- though Blair hedges his comments by using the term nuclear "capability", which could conceivably extend to any civilian nuclear infrastructure (just not outside of Iran, naturally):
With Hamas controlling Gaza, Hezbollah growing stronger in Lebanon, progress on a Palestinian-Israeli accord is going to be more difficult. With Iran developing a nuclear weapon capability and with Israel determined not to allow it, there is potential for an Iran- Israeli confrontation or crisis. Moderate Arab states fear a nuclear- armed Iran, but without progress on the Palestine settlement, they're harder put to defend their ties to the United States.
Later in the hearing before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, however, Blair acknowledged the stance of the intelligence community he oversees:
The assessment that was in our 2007 National Intelligence Estimate about Iran's nuclear weapons programs are generally still valid today. Tehran, at a minimum, is keeping open the option to develop deliverable nuclear weapons. The halt in the recent past in some aspects of the program was primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure. Some combination of threats -- threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security goals -- might prompt Tehran to extend the halt to some nuclear weapons-related activities.
Though the 2007 NIE does indeed note that Iran's leadership may be keeping the option open to someday develop a nuclear weapon, it also states with "high confidence" that any program to do so ended more than five years ago. According to Blair, that remains the view of the intelligence community today. That means every time President Obama or Secretary of State Clinton state without any qualifications that Iran is developing or pursuing a nuclear weapon, they are misstating the view of the U.S. intelligence community. Or they're just consciously lying.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Next verse, same as the first

In his first prime time press conference, President Barack Obama declined to acknowledge or "speculate" on Israel's widely known possession of perhaps several hundred nuclear weapons, continuing a long tradition of affected ignorance on the matter embraced by many U.S. heads of state before him. On Iran, however, Obama had no problem engaging in unsubstantiated speculating, declaring that country was developing/pursuing a nuclear weapon:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I said during the campaign that Iran is a country that has extraordinary people, extraordinary history and traditions, but that its actions over many years now have been unhelpful when it comes to promoting peace and prosperity both in the region and around the world; that their attacks or -- or their -- their financing of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, the bellicose language that they've used towards Israel, their development of a nuclear weapon or their pursuit of a nuclear weapon -- that all of those things create the possibility of destabilizing the region and are not only contrary to our interests, but I think are contrary to the interests of international peace.
Unfortunately, no reporter asked Obama how his statement that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons comports with the views of the U.S. intelligence community, which says Iran abandoned any nuclear weapons program it might've had in 2003, or with those of international inspectors on the ground in Iran who have found no evidence of nuclear material being diverted to an illicit program. Thankfully, there will be opportunities to ask the question in the future I'm sure, as Obama has twice before ignored intelligence on Iran that contradicts his unqualified assertions that it is pursuing nuclear weapons, as has Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has already hired two co-founders of the ultra-hawkish group United Against Nuclear Iran to serve as key State Department officials.

The next head of the CIA, Leon Panetta, has also publicly disavowed the findings of the intelligence agency he is about to lead, suggesting the new administration will be just as dismissive of facts that contradict their self-serving realities as the last one, only good liberal groups like won't make a big fuss about it now that a Democrat's in charge and people aren't afraid he'll decide to bomb Iran during a lull in the Rangers-Dodgers game. Progress!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

He's just not that into you

In what appears to be an emerging genre of inimitably creepy and pathetic leader-worship, The Guardian's Anna Shapiro writes -- apparently without any self-awareness -- about her experience of waking up in the middle of the night and wondering what America's new godhead is up to (a followup to New York Times blogger Judith Warner's similarly unaware post last week on Obama as sad and lonely middle-aged woman's sexual fantasy). Here's Shaprio in all her beyond-parody goodness, bemoaning the mean old press corps for having the temerity to question her unrequited love the new president as if he were some sort of . . . politician:
I tell myself it's just the hurly-burly of politics. I tell myself he's a strong guy; he can take it. I tell myself it's just the worst aspect of journalism, always manufacturing controversy and matters to deplore, and that it will be here today and gone tomorrow. But I identify with Obama's need to heal rifts, and so it tears me apart: all this tearing apart. Hasn't he got enough troubles? Must he part the Red Sea?

But it's more personal, and at least as preoccupying as my friend Mark's former arguments. I wake up at 4am and wonder if Obama is awake at 4am. I wonder how he decides what to do first and what to do second and what to do third. I wonder when he gets to read, and if there will be time for anything besides policy papers. I want to take care of him. And I realise that started as far back as the first time I saw him on a platform in front of a crowd of people.
Comparisons to George Orwell's 1984 have become a little stale since the Bush administration decided to treat the book as more of a policy paper than as an indictment of totalitarianism, but the peans to the head of state are worthy of Winston Smith's Oceania, suggesting significant segments of both major parties' rank-and-file are willing to suspend rational thought and unquestioningly follow the leader so long as their team is in charge.

When grown adults are stating publicly and without embarrassment their concern that the most powerful man in the world -- a man that earns close to half a million dollars a year; possesses a fleet of helicopters, planes, cars, servants, cooks and doctors; and, as demonstrated by his predecessor, has the freedom to vacation three months a year -- might not have enough free time to sit down and enjoy a Reader's Digest, that strikes me as one hell of a P.R.-coup. Big Brother would be jealous.

Monday, February 09, 2009

A curious silence: Susan Rice, liberal hawks and Somalia

In her speech last month before the United Nations Security Council, ambassador to the UN Susan Rice spoke eloquently of the need to uphold international law and protect human rights. Yet while she listed a whole series of ongoing humanitarian crises that demand the world’s attention -- mentioning Darfur, twice -- she somehow amazingly declined to mention another African country suffering mass starvation and widespread violence: Somalia

The conspicuous absence of what may be the greatest humanitarian catastrophe in Africa, if not the world, is not all that perplexing when one considers the fact that “humanitarian interventionists” like Rice have always shown a remarkable ability to overlook crimes against humanity aided and abetted by the U.S. government. Instead, these liberal hawks choose to focus their efforts on painting neat little morality plays involving foreign countries, with conflicts often painted in the very stark, black and white terms condemned when used by George W. Bush, but relished by liberals eager to regain the moral high-ground on the world stage.

By conveniently neglecting to mention Somalia in her speech, Rice was not just seeking to avoid the messy scenario of mentioning a crisis caused by the U.S. government (the Bush administration, you will recall, urged Ethiopia to invade Somalia in late 2006 ostensibly in order to capture a handful of militants wanted for questioning by the FBI and to expel the Islamic Courts movement that had taken power in the capital of Mogadishu). Rather, Rice probably wanted to avoid discussing a crisis brought about by a policy she enthusiastically endorsed. Consider her comments on PBS in June 2007, defending the Bush administration's bombing of souther Somalia and backing the phony "transitional government" installed by the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion:
RAY SUAREZ: The new U.N. secretary-general said that this risks escalating violence in the region, as much as the U.S. is seeking to lower the violence. Do you agree with that, Ms. Rice?
SUSAN RICE: There's always a risk. But, let's face it, the risk of Somalia falling into intensified violence is the risk of the status quo persisting. It has been anarchic; it has been violent and ungoverned.
And the challenge now is to try to stabilize it. And, in the process of doing so, we shouldn't abandon our counterterrorism imperatives, which really are real in the context of Somalia. We have to go after the terrorist cells where we find them.
Like her fellow liberal bombardier Samantha Power, another Obama foreign policy official, Ms. Rice has shown a remarkable capacity for reflection when it comes where U.S. military action supposedly could have stopped genocide but wasn’t taken or wasn’t take as early and forcibly as necessary, as in Rwanda or the Balkans. But these same respected foreign policy scholars, with their fine educations and more developed moral senses, show an equally remarkable inability to recognize or discuss the disastrous humanitarian consequences wrought by past military interventions sold on liberal grounds, from the Philippines to Iraq. 

To this set of liberal interventionists, deplorable human rights violations are to be found everywhere the U.S. has not intervened, but rarely where it has. Only when the U.S. military fails to act to stop "genocide" in a given country is there any handwringing about the loss of innocent life (Samantha Power, for instance, is clear in declaring "a moral difference between setting out to destroy as many civilians as possible and killing civilians unintentionally and reluctantly in pursuit of a military objective").

In the case of Somalia, the country went from relative calm in late 2006 to utter chaos after the US/Rice-backed Ethiopian invasion, which has resulted in more than one million refugees and three times that number in need of basic humanitarian aid. Doctors Without Borders notes that, “Already struggling to survive with little or no access to even basic health-care services, Somalis experienced some of the worst violence in over a decade in 2008.” Yet Rice, “one of the country’s leading thinkers on the role of human rights in statecraft”, can’t spend 10 seconds name-dropping it in her speech? Telling, though if Steve Clemons is right that the Obama administration is considering taking military action against Somali pirates, it's probably for the better.

But assuming for a moment thatc U.S. intervention abroad was consistently capable of achieving the results its liberal idealist proponents assume (and putting aside, oh, all of recorded human history), what about the vast military-industrial complex even such a benevolent foreign policy would require? Is it not possible that just maybe this vast constituency maintained for such a moral purpose might push for a broader mandate, and to intervene more often than not, even in cases where it may not be warranted? And assuming those running U.S. foreign policy are angels (they are Democrats, of course), what if someone less angelic -- say, a George W. Bush -- takes control of this powerful military and decides to start wars for less altruistic and humanitarian reasons?

Those who justify maintaining a massive standing army -- and by extension a massive self-interested military-industrial complex -- for saintly, Kipling-esque purposes, share blame for when that same military establishment is used to launch illegal wars of aggression and to maintain a world empire. And when humanitarianism is used to justify mass murder (see Korea, Vietnam, Iraq), it should cause these eager liberal interventionists to ponder: is the number of lives allegedly saved by U.S. military intervention in “good” wars greater than the number of people killed by the U.S. military in less defensible conflicts? Taking an objective look at history -- and the millions killed in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq by U.S. intervention -- the answer would clearly be the latter, but I’m not sure people like Susan Rice have ever considered the question.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Barack Obama: Prophecy Fulfilled

While some loyal Democrats might have unrealistic expectations for President Obama and how much the candidate of Hope and Change will actually alter in a positive sense the way the state operates, it would be a gross act of Limbaugh-esque distortion to say these Team Blue partisans actually look up to their new leader as something of a progressive Godhead . . . right?
With Obama taking great pains to cast himself as the second coming of the sainted Abraham Lincoln (who himself sits in a Zeus-inspired "temple" dedicated to his honor), it really isn't surprising that some of his supporters might just see him as the actual Second Coming.

(Picture taken last week in Washington, DC's Chinatown)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Who needs intelligence in Washington?

In his confirmation hearing before thee Senate Intelligence Committee, President Obama's pick to head the CIA, Leon Panetta, said he believed Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons -- contrary to the opinion of the intelligence community he is about to lead -- in this exchange with Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN), who had his own problems with the facts (and the views of international inspectors and the U.S. intelligence community):
SEN. BAYH: There was a -- and this involves the National Intelligence Estimates. We had an unfortunate case -- I'm sure you're aware of -- with regard to Iran, where the way in which the National Intelligence Estimate was written highlighted the fact that apparently they suspended the weaponization aspect of their program. Then, in the footnote, it noted that they continued to pace with their attempts to develop fissile material and delivery capabilities and those kind of things, and in fact may have restarted their weaponization efforts. We just don't know.

So I would encourage you -- just a comment -- to look very carefully how these things are written, because that really undermined our diplomatic efforts to gather our allies to put pressure on Iran to stop those kind of activities. So my comment, my question, is, is it your belief that Iran is seeking a nuclear military capability? Or are their interests solely limited to the civilian sphere?

MR. PANETTA: From all the information that I've seen, I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability.
There’s of course several problems with this exchange, but let’s begin with Bayh’s patently false assertion that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (NIE) declared in a footnote that Iran “may have restarted their weaponization efforts. We just don’t know.”

Since Bayh, a member of the Intelligence Committee, can’t recall the actual findings of the NIE, perhaps we should recap for the confused senators that might be reading this: it declares on behalf of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” The footnote to that statement declares:
For the purposes of this Estimate, by “nuclear weapons program” we mean Iran’s nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.
So, in fact, the ‘07 NIE (pdf) explicitly states with “high confidence” that Iran has ended its “nuclear weapons program”, defined as its “nuclear weapons design and weaponization work” -- decidedly not, as Bayh asserts, “that they may have restarted their weaponization efforts. We just don't know.” Those findings have been a thorn in the side of hawkish, fear-mongering politicians since it came out -- "an unfortunate case" in Bayh's words -- but it seems to have largely been forgotten or dismissed by America's elite politicians and journalists.

As for Panetta, it would be interesting to hear what information he has seen that the Bush administration’s Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell hasn’t (and why he didn't correct Bayh's distortion of the NIE). Speaking last month with PBS’s Charlie Rose, McConnell declared his belief that “Iran wants to build a nuclear weapon”, but added, “I cannot prove that.”

Meanwhile, in March of last year Bush administration Deputy Director of National Intelligence and Chairman of the National Intelligence Council Thomas Fingar stood by the findings of the ’07 NIE in an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations. “The judgments would be the same,” he said. “[Y]ou don’t have a bomb unless you can produce a device and weaponize it. That’s what’s stopped.”

In its most recent report (pdf), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also declared that “The Agency has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran.”

Nothing in the reports issued by the IAEA or the U.S. intelligence community back the Cheney/Obama/Panetta claim that Iran is actively pursuing nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, there is a clear pattern of Obama administration officials ignoring these findings, while offering no evidence to justify their claims. 

I'm ok, you're ok (with government kidnapping)

When it comes to violations of human rights and international law, I find the Obama administration's Predator drone attacks inside of Pakistan -- which have killed at least 22 people, including children -- to be graver and much more troubling than the news that Obama is prepared to continue major aspects of the Bush administration's rendition policy. While a person extrajudicially abducted might often be deprived the right to counsel and a trial, at least they and their families aren't usually slaughtered.

That said, on Sunday The Los Angeles Times published a story reporting that President Change was set to continue the Bush (and Clinton) administration's policy of "secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States." Naturally, this elicited outrage from the usual folks, like Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch, who declared that "Under limited circumstances, there is a legitimate place" for renditions. 

Oh, right -- with a Democrat in power and proper "oversight" in place, rendition isn't considered much of a problem. To his credit, Malinowski did "urge" Obama to give those kidnapped a trial, so clearly there's nothing to worry about here.

Indeed, several top liberal bloggers have insisted there is no controversy concerning renditions under Obama because he has outlawed long-term CIA "black sites" and the use of torture (which I remember President Bush also insisting was U.S. policy). Indicative of the collective cognitive dissonance, Washington Monthly blogger "Hilzoy" made strained attempts to defend the administration an art, suggesting the author of the Times piece was perhaps a bit confused and -- choosing her preferred definition of "rendition", rather than that of the reporter or popular parlance -- speculating that perhaps he was unaware that rendition means "all sorts of perfectly normal things, like extradition, which are not problematic legally."

Of course, if the issue were Obama merely continuing extradition, one doubts the Times would have published the story, as -- and I could be wrong here -- I don't think a single person on the planet thought he would he end a practice engaged in since the formation of the republic. In sum, Hilzoy implies that the Times reporter called all his intelligence and Obama administration sources asking about the new president's rendition policy (meaning extrajudicial abductions), and that they all answered assuming he was talking about extradition instead. Presumably, not once was any attempt made to clarify the terms during the conversation to ensure both speakers were on the same page when discussing controversial counter-terrorism policies.

This, of course, is ludicrous, as constitutional law professor Darren Hutchinson has attempted to point out (the reporter himself has also clarified his meaning of the term in an email to Glenn Grennwald). But rather than accept the reality that in many ways the new boss is a lot like the old one, Hutchinson notes that many liberal Bush critics have sought to downplay their earlier criticism of rendition sans torture, with others outright flipping their positions now that a Good Progressive is in charge. Said liberals, predictably, have denied that any such thing has taken place, with Hilzoy responding by suggesting she has been consistently fine with the U.S. government extrajudicially abducting suspects overseas so long as they're not sent to countries that torture (which is not exactly a point in her favor). 

Meanwhile, and just in time to add to the debate, the ACLU has put out a press release showing that the Obama administration is not only okay with rendition -- extraordinary or not -- but torture as well, at least the kind that took place before January 20th (via Michael J. Smith):
NEW YORK – After the British High Court ruled that evidence of British resident Binyam Mohamed's extraordinary rendition and torture at Guantánamo Bay must remain secret because of threats made by the Bush administration to halt intelligence sharing, the Obama administration told the BBC today in a written statement: "The United States thanks the UK government for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information and preserve the long-standing intelligence sharing relationship that enables both countries to protect their citizens."
In this context, is it really wise for people to simply defer to the administration, and to assume the president will always be angelic and do what's right? Or, perhaps, is it not better to question authority, press Obama to clarify his statements on rendition (and Iran), and not look to him as a leader (or a father figure) to be followed, but as a potentially dangerous criminal who needs to be closely watched? That's not intended as hyperbole, mind you -- if you can't name a major human rights violation or other war crime committed by every president in the last 60 years, then you just don't know your history. With fallible human beings holding unprecedented levels of power, one shouldn't assume those who ascend to the top position in the state will always be Good and Just, and that all day it will rain lollipops and Krispy Kremes. Rather, expect the worst (while doing your best to prevent it), and be surprised if something honorable and decent transpires. It beats being disappointed.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Israeli government validates its critics

During the recent Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip which saw upwards of 1,300 Palestinians killed -- ostensibly in response to Hamas rocket fire that had killed no one during the previous five months -- Israeli apologists vociferously attacked claims that the brutal assault was disproportionate.

To take but one example, Harvard law professor (and respected torture advocate) Alan Dershowitz took to the pages of The Wall Street Journal to denounce said charges as "absurd":

Israel's actions in Gaza are justified under international law, and Israel should be commended for its self-defense against terrorism. Article 51 of the United Nations Charter reserves to every nation the right to engage in self-defense against armed attacks. The only limitation international law places on a democracy is that its actions must satisfy the principle of proportionality.


The claim that Israel has violated the principle of proportionality -- by killing more Hamas terrorists than the number of Israeli civilians killed by Hamas rockets -- is absurd. First, there is no legal equivalence between the deliberate killing of innocent civilians and the deliberate killings of Hamas combatants. Under the laws of war, any number of combatants can be killed to prevent the killing of even one innocent civilian.
Though Dershowitz and Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League will no doubt attack the source as unreliable and probably as virulently anti-semitic, one prominent institution -- the Israeli government -- apparently disagrees with their assessment of the recent war, calling it what it clearly was: disproportionate. As Reuters reports:
Israel vows "disproportionate" response to rockets
JERUSALEM, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert threatened on Sunday a "disproportionate" response to the continued firing of rockets into Israel from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

There have been sporadic rocket attacks by militants on southern Israeli communities and several Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip since a truce came into effect on Jan. 18 following a 22-day Israeli offensive in the territory.

At least two rockets struck southern Israel on Sunday, causing no damage or casualties. A wing of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a group belonging to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction, claimed responsibility.

"The government's position was from the outset that if there is shooting at the residents of the south, there will be a harsh Israeli response that will be disproportionate," Olmert said at the weekly cabinet meeting after the latest rocket salvo.
Glad that's settled.

Meanwhile -- here's Dershowitz in November 2007 demonstrating why he's such a valued mainstream commentator in a column defending torture because, hey, it worked for the Nazis, and imploring Democrats not to fall victim to the "pacifistic" anti-war left:
Hundreds of thousands of Americans may watch Michael Moore's movies or cheer Cindy Sheehan's demonstrations, but tens of millions want the Moores and Sheehans of our nation as far away as possible from influencing national security policy. That is why Rudy Giuliani seems to be doing surprisingly well among many segments of the electorate, ranging from centrist Democrats to Republicans and even some on the religious right.

It may seem strange that a candidate, who came to national prominence as the New York mayor, and one with a mixed record in that job, would be the choice of so many on security issues, despite his lack of experience in the national and international arenas. But the post- 9/11 Rudy conveys a sense of toughness, of no-nonsense defense of America.
Giuliani, you will recall, did not win a single Republican delegate in his race for the party's presidential nomination (while even the much-maligned anti-war congressman Ron Paul won around two dozen). Too bad punditry is a lot like the Supreme Court: as soon as one's inducted into the august body, the only thing that can get you removed is either death or getting caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.